Sunday, December 26, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I took 3 trips to Wakayama (Wakayama City, Shirahama, Mt. Koya), 2 trips to Shiga (Otsu, Mt. Mikami), and individual trips to Nara, Himeji and Ako in the Kansai area (Not even counting trips to Kobe and Kyoto.) A bit farther afield I traveled to Matsuyama City in Shikoku, Nagano and the Tango peninsula to the North, as well as capitol city of Tokyo. And of course, fairly early in the year, I traveled to Korea for the first time.
In my travels I ended up taking over 5000 photos this year and, while not everyone's not a winner they all help remind me of what I've experienced.
I'd say 2010 was pretty successful. I can't wait to see where 2011 takes me!
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
*"Health and Sports Day" is part on the "Happy Monday" initiative with the (failed) aim to give Japanese office workers more time off during the calender year.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
I awoke to my alarm at seven, in the first of what was to become a series of early mornings for me. Showered and shaved I did a bit of last minute packing before double checking to make sure I had unplugged all me electronics. I put on my backpack (filled with two days clothing and my camera equipment) and headed out the door.
I arrived at the Toyota rent-a-car place down the block at eight and saw Matt (a co-worker and the alternate driver on the trip) waiting out front. We headed into the small busy office and waited for a few other customers to be processed before sitting at the counter. Our first snag came when I realized I needed my passport with me for my international license to work. I left me bag with Matt in the office and literally ran back to my apartment to retrieve the necessary documents. In the five minutes I was gone Alex (another co-worker and the navigator on the trip) arrived. After five or ten minutes of nodding and agreeing not to get the car towed or totaled we were shown our very own shinny Corolla. After a quick refresher of where the wipers, turn signal, and gas pedal were we were on the road.
Getting onto the Meishin we took a ticket from an automatic teller and joined the light, post-rush hour traffic headed towards Kyoto. During our first leg we passed from Osaka to Kyoto to Shiga to Mie to Aiichi and finally into Shizuoka prefecture. We had great driving weather with light, high clouds and no wind (evidently a danger in some parts.) We stopped somewhere past Nagano, switched drivers, and Matt took us into Shizuoka.
Our second, and perhaps biggest, snag came when exiting the expressway in Shizuoka. We pulled up to the manned toll booth (most are automatic, using the ETC card system) and handed the toll-lady our ticket. We were quite confused when she announced that our toll was over Y7,500. There's been a big media campaign here to promote that all expressway tolls, no matter how far you go, are only Y1,000 on weekends and holidays. After noting that today was certainly a holiday, the kind toll-lady told us that only only if we had an ETC card were we eligible for the cheap tolls. Having no real recourse, we paid the exaggerated fee, asked for directions to where we were headed in Shizuoka, and went on our way.
We arrived at Higashi-Shizuoka station at about 1:30 and made a beeline for the 1/1 scale Gundam exhibit. Although I had already seen this statue a year earlier on my last trip to Tokyo I still took a lot of pictures. Facilitating my photography this time were better weather and less of a crowd than the last time. We got our picture taken on a raised platform in front of the statue by some exhibit staff before waiting in a line to be able to walk under it and touch its feet. While waiting in line, the statue did it's 2:00 "show" where music plays, it lights up, shoots out fake smoke, and swivels it's head around. After some more picture talking we had lunch at a nice ramen shop nearby.
Shortly after leaving Shizuoka we entered both Kanagawa prefecture and heavy traffic. It turns out a bus broke down in one of the mountain passes and blocked a lane of traffic. Once past the obstruction, traffic was better until we got into the greater Yokohama area when we hit rush hour.
Eventually we exited the freeway, paying an additional Y3500 in tolls as we did. We covered the last few kilometers to Shin-Yokohama on surface streets, stopping at the first gas station we saw to fill up the tank. My brilliant scheme to park outside of the center of Tokyo hiccuped when we couldn't find an empty, manned, overnight parking deck. After 20 or 30 minutes of circling we finally decided on a surface lot near the train station.
Road weary and starved, we locked up the car and headed into the first McD's we saw. Energized by American junk food we hopped on the first train into town.
Luckily my favorite capsule hotel was right where I left it in Shibuya. We each put our Y4,000 in the lobby ticket machine and got our locker keys. After a long soak in the hot-tub like communal bath we all went up to our capsules to crash out for the night.
After a good, deep, nights sleep we got up and moving around 9:30 the next day. Our first stop: Krispy Kreme. After a wholly unhealthy but delectable breakfast we hopped on the train to Akihabara. After a few hours of walking around browsing the shops and generally being very nerdy we stopped at a Japanese lunch shop which served huge, cheap, delicious lunch sets. While our food settled we walked around a bit more. By some extreme force of will I managed to buy but one video game the whole day. Mid-afternoon we stopped into the "Gundam Cafe", a new cafe based on the same animated series that spawned the giant robot we saw in Shizuoka. Secretly, this cafe was the second of two reasons for me to plan this trip in the first-place (the other being the giant robot itself.)
Exhausted from what turned out to be a long day on our feet we returned to Century Capsule and again put our money into the machine. However, before we could push the button to get our tickets we were stopped by the hotel staff and kindly informed that if we bought a 3 pack of tickets we could save Y1,000 each, though we would have to use the regular capsules (we used the deluxe ones the night before.) Happy to save money we went this route. After a long soak in the 'hot-tub' we enjoyed some vending-machine beers before calling it an early night.
Wednesday September 22nd.
We literally awoke at the crack of dawn on the third day. After quickly packing our things we stopped in the 7-11 across the street before heading down to the station. On the way we played "just woke up or still awake?" Trying to guess which category the few drowsy people on the street were.
Sated from our notably fish-free breakfast we circled the market one more time, taking the opportunity to enter the central market's core this time (it opens to non-buyers after 9:00.) After seeing more fish innards than I really though possible we headed off to Shinjuku.
In Shiinjuku we went to the top of he Tokyo Government building. It's still the best free view of Tokyo, but unfortunately it was extremely hazy that day and it was hard to see out past Shinjuku proper.
We sat and chatted for a while with my old sensei who, to my delight, still remembered me (and the rest of the class I was there with too.) She had lots of news about the other students and staff that wee there at the same time I was. The hardest piece of news to take was that one of my favorite teachers (and, perhaps, the most interesting man I have met in my life) passed away a few years earlier. Fortunately everyone else seems to be happy and healthy. Also delightful about this meeting was that 99% of it took place in Japanese which I could understand and make myself understood! We bid find fare-wells and I promised to stay in touch in the future.
Our next stop was the Yasakuni shrine (because it's in the neighborhood.) The Yasakuni shrine controversial in that it's dedicated to Japan's war-dead. Many previous Prime Ministers have come under fire for visiting this shrine as it is perceived as honoring Japan's war-making past (in a country where mention the war is somewhat taboo.)
After a late lunch of pasta we took a short train ride over to the National Diet building. We had to walk around a bit to kill time waiting for the last tour of the day. Once we were let inside (through a back tour-entrance) I had to sign our group in by giving my name birthday and address. (I had to do this at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto too, some sort of security precaution, I guess.) We waited for a few minutes in a large, empty, hall with the rest of the people on the tour before being lead through a medal detector. Our tour was lead by a security guard who spoke zero English (we were warned about this on the way in) so I did my best to translate what I could for the other two guys. The interior of the Diet looks a lot like the American Capital building (and I assume the British Parliament building.) Notable features included; no air-conditioning, 3 statues on 4 pedestals (no country's government should be "done" or "finished"), and ceilings in the central foyer and Diet chambers made of Tiffany glass.
We rallied around nine in the morning, packed, and went across the street to a "family restaurant" called "Gasto". Fortunately, as with the previous morning, they served somewhat western looking breakfasts at Gasto too. Stomachs fueled, we headed back to Shin-Yokohama where we left the car. As we walked to Shibuya station in started to rain. By the time we were in Yokohama it was torrentially down-pouring. We had to dash across the parking lot to the car that was, thankfully, still there. We paid the auto-teller-gate Y9,000 for 3 days of parking and were on our way.
The first hour and a half, over surface streets and onto the expressway, it continued to pour rain on us. We stopped at a rest stop about 12:30 and changed drivers. Some time between then and 3:30 when we changed drivers again the rain let up and even let some beautiful rays of evening sunlight through.
We got back into Daikokucho about at 6:30 in the evening. After filling up the tank across the street we gave the car back to the nice people at Toyota. Outside the rental shop we said our goodbyes and went out separate ways.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head..
(Summer in the city - The Lovin Spoonful)